||Feb 15, 2005
A novel of terror, intrigue,
enlightenment and redemption.
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Traumatized as a child after witnessing a hanging, the first black
reporter at a southern newspaper in the 1960's attempts to solve the
mysterious abandonment of a small town and the disappearance
of fourteen townspeople. His investigation leads him from rural
Arkansas to Cleveland, Ohio as he tries to uncover a family secret kept
hidden for more than a decade. The closer he gets to the truth, the more
he must question his own motives since his quest also points him
toward a path that leads to his own salvation.
As Anthony entered the parlor after his morning run, he overheard Mrs. Warner speaking to one of her cousins. “Word got around town fast about the reporter.”
“Yeah,” Turner interjected, “everybody in town is talking about him and Evesville now.”
That was good, Anthony thought. Maybe somebody with information would come forward.
When Turner came to his room late that morning to tell him he had a white visitor, Anthony didn’t know if he was more surprised or concerned. He was jotting down a few more notes on his pad about his visit with Hero when his new visitor knocked on the front door. The quick scuffling of Mrs. Warner’s feet indicated it was an unusual visit.
From his room, Anthony had watched the man approach the house. He was a scruffy-looking, thin, sandy-haired white man between forty and fifty years of age, but there was something about him that didn’t fit his looks. Anthony could tell it in Mrs. Warner’s voice and the grudging voices that responded to him from the men sitting on the porch.
“Mrs. Warner, I hear you got a newspaperman here looking for information.”
“Seems like it, Mr. Byrd.”
“I’d like to speak to him if I could.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Byrd. I’ll go get him for you.”
Anthony had already started down the stairs. Although the visitor was as short and scruffy as he appeared from the upstairs window, Byrd’s most notable feature was his eyes. They were the bluest eyes Anthony had ever seen. It almost seemed he could see through a person. The piercing stare threw Anthony off for a moment.
Byrd was dressed in blue overalls over a pair of work shoes and a shirt with Cummins’ Plow stitched on the pocket.
“Bobby Joe Byrd,” he said as he offered his hand.
“Anthony. Anthony Andrews, sir.”
“Can we go somewhere and talk?” Byrd asked glancing sideways at the men gathered on the porch.
“Sure. Where do you want to go?” Anthony asked carefully.
For some reason, Anthony was nervous. He didn’t know why. If there was a fight, he could take this guy, but then why was he thinking like that? Byrd had said nothing that could be considered threatening.
“Let’s just walk.” The three men on the porch looked anywhere but at Anthony and Byrd. The strange-looking man didn’t say anything else until they had walked for a couple of minutes. “So what you doing in Wynne?”
Anthony hesitated. He tried to be just as direct. “I’m trying to track down what happened to a black doctor who was killed some time ago in Evesville.”
“So what you find?” Byrd scratched his head as he talked.
Anthony found it odd the way he used his right hand to scratch the left side of his head. “Not much. You have some information?”
“Well, I ‘spect you also curious about why that town is deserted, too, ain’t you?” Byrd stopped to look Anthony straight in the eyes.
Anthony looked off into the fields full of ripening cotton. “Yeah, I have to admit, I was surprised.”
Byrd nodded. “Several people is interested in what happened in Evesville.”
“Oh?” Anthony responded.
“Yeah. I don’t know how much you heard, but some people who was in that town plumb disappeared. Some of them boys had relatives, but can’t nobody shake loose nothin’, ‘specially since Sheriff Jefferson was missin’, too.”
Anthony perked up. “So what do you know about what happened there? I haven’t been able to make heads or tails out of what I’ve found out yet. Are the disappearances related to Dr. Washington?”
“I don’t know if them missing is related.”
“What happened to them?”
“That’s what don’t nobody know.” Byrd bent his head, looking at the ground ahead. “Most of ‘em missing was good ol’ boys from in and around town. Used to always get together for some fun most weekends. Suddenly, one weekend, they missin’.”
“Exactly when did this happen?”
“I’d say 19…48 or thereabouts.”
Anthony winced. That year would be forever embedded in his mind.
“So when did the town become deserted?”
“Two or three years later, maybe four.”
“Was it because of the missing people?”
“Yep. First the white folks moved. That was shortly after they found that the sheriff was missin’. Then the Nigras moved.”
Anthony ignored Byrd’s pronunciation. “The whites moved because the sheriff was missing?”
“Yeah, and them boys. We think it was fourteen of ’em all total.”
“Fourteen? And nobody knows what happened?”
“Just suspect. But we glad to see you looking into it. White folks don’t have a clue, and the Nigras ain’t talking.”
They turned to go back toward the house. “Look,” Byrd said in a conciliatory tone, “I want to help all I can. I got friends who can help you if you need it. You ask for Bobby Joe Byrd at the tavern there, and I’ll get to you. I’ll be in town for another week before I head back to Little Rock.” He hesitated. “I need you to know how important any information you find about the missin’ men is to some of us. If you find out anything, you let me know now, you hear?”
Byrd’s voice remained soft as it had been during their whole conversation, but Anthony sensed that his last statement was more a command than a request.
“I sure will, Mr. Byrd.”
Byrd left without another word. Anthony didn’t know if he had gained an ally or an adversary, but he suspected the latter.
True family, true grit, truly an excellent story
When first approaching "Snake Walkers" I wasn't so sure it was going to be my 'cup of tea'. It seemed to be another one of those stories set back in the days of racial conflict, one we've all heard before... but I quickly realized I have never seen this side of the race wars. Set in the late 1940's through the 1960's the story begins with a young black boy (Anthony) seeing another boy being hung and beaten by a group of 14 white men. Scared to the depths of his soul he holds this vision deep within for decades, allowing it to eat at him until he's finally forced to confront the issues of what he saw.
Anthony vows to make right the wrongs he has seen, if even by making a small difference in the world of blacks but his ways of 'making a difference' seems to differ a lot from what many others are doing during this time of conflict. His father brings him up to believe that the colored folk are in the predicament they're in because of their own ignorance and violence. Anthony follows in his father's way of thinking and feels that he can make a difference by being the best he can be and not making those he's fighting against angry with such 'stupid' actions as marches and out right confrontation. He chooses to ignore the violence involved with often innocent black men and women or at the least, put it in the back of his mind.
Then Anthony lands a job as 'the first negro to write for the Sun'. This position makes him feel as thought this is his chance to make the difference he's always wanted to make. He finds himself working on a story, which soon becomes a much deeper and darker story than he ever thought. Then to complicate matters even more, he seeks some answers from a beautiful, intelligent professor that he instantly has feelings for, but doesn't want to allow those feelings overtake his ability to write a good story. As he uncovers more and more information it becomes less and less clear who is 'on his side' now and he finds danger in every corner.
During his quest, he also finds that perhaps his father's ways aren't the right ways. He finds that family isn't always as cut and dry as he thought, and begins to understand the true meaning of family ties and bonds.
While the beginning of the book was a little slow, a little perseverance will put you deep within the soul of a touching, thrilling story like no other. You've never seen the times of racial wars like this before, I can assure you. It's a wonderful book that will open your eyes to many things, including what true love and family means.
Reviewed by Beverly Pechin for Reader Views
Life Without Fear
Ever wondered what it takes for a person to walk among a den of snakes without fear? While this is a philosophical question, it is in essence the theme of J. Everett Prewitt's freshman novel, SNAKE WALKERS. The book opens with a harrowing scene in which a young Anthony witnesses the lynching of a boy about his age. Not only was the crime unsolved, but was never mentioned in local newspapers or neighborhood gossip. The nameless victim of this horrendous crime haunts Anthony, he suffers from nightmares, anxiety attacks and intense fear. In spite of his father's misgivings, he vows to become a journalist so that he can be a voice for the voiceless victims of senseless crimes.
By 1962, Anthony has completed his college education, but is sheltered and naïve. His limited understanding of racial dynamics, issues of civil rights and even familial relationships all come into play as the story unfolds. After a long, frustrating job search, he finally gets a position at a small southern newspaper and eventually gets his "big break." This break is the opportunity to investigate various racial crimes and create a series of articles covering them for the paper. While investigating his first lead, he discovers a town that has been completely abandoned. In an attempt to find answers, he goes digging for information and soon realizes all of his leads point to the Coulters and the Williams families. As Anthony continues his journey to the big story, he learns that nothing is as it seems and is forced to re-examine his personal life and views.
SNAKE WALKERS is a dynamic work of fiction with a slow, deliberate pace that is reminiscent of Southern Life. The characters are well developed, colorful, flawed and each of them is transformed in the course of the story. The plot is full of twists and suspense; this adds an additional layer of richness to an already compelling work of historical fiction. Prewitt's use of language was impressive and so full of detail that I could "see" the landscape, "hear" the screeching tires, and "feel" the clammy hands and surges of adrenalin. In addition to writing a story that is enjoyable, he has created a tale that explores history, civil rights, identity, family, and community; it was simply a delight to read.
Reviewed by Stacey Seay
of The RAWSISTAZ™ Reviewers
Brilliant, Soul Searching, Penetrating
J. Everett Prewitt is a natural story teller. I was drawn right into the story. He captured my attention from the first paragraph. The plot carries with it all the elements of conflict, romance, and intrigue.
The action is heightened by a masterful pacing of conflict and resolution. Throughout the story Prewitt maintains suspense. The story unfolds a haunting theme of mystery.
His descriptive phrases and imagery activate all five senses. I smelled the flowers, heard the twigs crackling, and felt the explosion of a gun blasting nearby. Although often graphic, Prewitt was sensitive as he described the racial tensions of the 1960s and atrocities that often went unacknowledged and unreported.
I was deeply moved by the underlying current of family loyalty, secrecy and tension. The novel gave the author a platform to enlighten in the reader a moral and social responsibility. I was deeply touched and was often struck by an emotional chord as I recognized the impact of environment and family heritage on my own growth and value formation.
The author's sensitive writing and insightful character development creates an empathy for his all his characters, the heroes and the downtrodden. Each was faced with choices based on ritual and tradition that might have an effect on the life and safety of others.
I highly recommend this book anyone consciously trying to bridge the social injustices of the past with the hope of the future. This is a brilliant, penetrating novel.
Richard R. Blake
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